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Working on Labor 



Essays in Honor of Jan Lucassen 

Edited by 

Marcel van der Linden and Leo Lucassen 




BRILL 



LEIDEN • BOSTON 
2012 



WORKING FOR DIAMONDS FROM THE 16TH TO THE 20TH CENTURY 1 



Karin Hofmeester 



Diamonds have a long history of globalization — a history characterized 
by only a few (though often changing) world centers of production and 
trade, strongly interconnected and linked to consumer markets. India has 
played a major role in this history. The first diamonds were mined and 
finished there, and nowadays more than 90% of all diamonds are cut and 
polished in this subcontinent. In between — from the 16th century until 
the second half of the 20th century — various European cities in succes- 
sion became major diamond finishing centers, obtaining their rough dia- 
monds from various parts of the world. 

Diamonds are not only a global commodity par excellence; they are also 
a luxury commodity pur sang. Diamond research has therefore focused 
mainly on the diamond trade, consumption and the associated consumer 
culture. Diamond production and the effects this had on labor are often 
neglected. Since a lot of work is involved along the route "from mine to 
finger," and since this commodity chain has an age-old global character, 
diamond production offers us a perfect exemplar for "how to do" global 
labor history. My main aim in what follows is to show the global intercon- 
nectedness of diamond production, trade and consumption and its effects 
on labor relations world wide. The focus will be on India and Europe, 
although I will also touch on other parts of the world. 

Diamond trajectories 

Already in antiquity, Indians traded diamonds with the Romans, whose 
trading routes exported the stones as far away as China, where they were 
mainly used as tools to drill holes in jade. 2 In the late Middle Ages, we 



1 This article is part of my research project Luxury and Labour: A Global Trajectory of 
Diamond Consumption and Production, 16th to 19th Century, funded by the Fritz Thyssen 
Stiftung. 

2 Also later on, no interest in diamonds for jewellery seemed to have developed. Craig 
Clunas, Superfluous Things: Material Culture and Social Status in Early Modern China 
(reprint, Honolulu, 2004) mentions mainly jewellery made of jade, pearls, ivory and silver. 



20 



KARIN HOFMEESTER 



see a reintroduction of diamond consumption in Europe. The first dia- 
monds reaching Europe from India in the early Renaissance were bought 
and sold by individual merchants, who transported the stones via cara- 
van routes (using parts of the silk route). They sold their merchandise in 
Venice, where most of the stones were finished. In the 16th century, the 
Portuguese discovered shorter sea routes to India, and they became the 
most important diamond dealers, rerouting the trade from India (often 
Goa) to Lisbon and from there to Antwerp, where a polishing industry 
started to flourish. At that time, Antwerp was already the principal market 
where the Portuguese sold their spices and bought copper, timber, grain 
and other essentials for the Asian trade and for the Iberian economies. 3 

The Dutch East India Company (VOC) entered the diamond trade at 
the beginning of the 17th century, buying stones from local merchants, and 
sending them off from their factory on the Coromandel Coast. Although 
the VOC for some time made large profits in the diamond trade — by 
forbidding its employees to engage in the much more effective private 
trade — it lost its position to the English traders who soon overtook both 
the Portuguese and the Dutch. Amsterdam nevertheless became an impor- 
tant diamond trading and finishing center in the 17th century. At first the 
East India Company (EIC) had a monopoly on the trade of diamonds (and 
many other commodities). However, after the 1660s it not only allowed 
company servants to buy small amounts of stones, but also permitted 
private traders to import Indian diamonds via EIC officers. 4 The major 
"export hub" for diamonds in India at that time was Madras, and London 
became the major market for rough diamonds, although an extensive dia- 
mond finishing industry never developed in England. 

When large diamond deposits were found in Brazil in the late 1720s, 
the Portuguese — after a short "free-for-all" period — claimed a monopoly 
both on the exploitation of the mines, and on the transport and sale of 
rough diamonds. This made Lisbon the port where the rough diamonds 
first arrived. Since however most large merchants were British, and a lot 
of stones reached the British capital illegally, London remained the center 



See also http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/31/business/worldbusiness/31diamonds.html 
published in 2005, last assessed on 12 April 2on, where a young Chinese woman states 
that jade ('popular for centuries in China') is outdated and diamonds are more convenient 
and lightweight to wear. "They make you look sharp." 

3 James C. Boyajian, Portuguese Trade in Asia under the Habsburgs, 1580-1640 (Balti- 
more, 1993), pp. 135-6. 

4 Soren Mentz, The English Gentleman Merchant at work. Madras and the City of London 
1660-1740 (Copenhagen, 2005), pp. 116-7. 



WORKING FOR DIAMONDS FROM THE l6TH TO THE 20TH CENTURY 21 



of the rough trade. The indirect trading route between Rio de Janeiro and 
London via Lisbon eventually ended the Indo-European trade in rough 
diamonds, although the mining and finishing of diamonds in India con- 
tinued, as we shall see. 

Globalization increased further after 1870, when huge diamond deposits 
were discovered in South-Africa. The De Beers Company soon established 
a mining and rough trade cartel, settling its Central Selling Organisation 
in London. Prices fell, the diamond democratized, and a large demand 
led to a large finishing industry which started to sell its products also in 
the United States. In the course of the 20th century, new deposits were 
discovered in Africa, Russia, Australia and Canada, and new consumer 
markets were explored. Yet the abundance of relatively cheap rough dia- 
monds became one of the factors that shifted the finishing industry back 
to its original cradle, India. 

Labor in the Indian diamond mines 

India's Golconda mines were world-famous in the early modern world. 
According to the Oxford dictionary, Golconda is synonymous for "a source 
of wealth, advantages, or happiness." The mines were actually not located 
in Golconda itself — the diamonds were only sold there — but situated fur- 
ther East in and around Kollur, in the basin between the Godavari and 
Kristna river. Other fields on the Deccan plateau, in what is now Andhra 
Pradesh, could be found around Kurnool, between the Kristna and Penner 
river, and more South on the Penner River in and around Cuddapah. A 
second group of mines were dug in and around Sambalpur on the Maha- 
nadi river, in present day Orissa. The third group was located in Panna, in 
present-day Madhya Pradesh. 

There are several detailed 17th century European descriptions about the 
Indian mines. The earliest description is by Jaques de Coutre, a Bruges- 
born diamond merchant who went to Goa with his brother Joseph. Goa 
was ruled by the Portuguese since 1510, and functioned as a true global 
"trade hub." The De Coutres settled there as merchants in precious stones. 5 



5 De Coutre's son wrote down his fathers memoirs in 1640. The original manuscript 
Vida de Jaques de Coutre, natural de la ciudad de Brugas, condado de Ftandes. Puesto en 
la forma que estd por su hijo, Don Estevan de Coutre, Madrid 1640 is kept in the National 
Library in Madrid. For a translation see Johan Verberckmoes and Eddy Stols (eds), 
Aziatische omzwervingen. Het levensverhaal van Jaques de Coutre, een Brugs diamanthande- 
laar 1591-1627 (Berchem, 1988). 



22 



KARIN HOFMEESTER 



J T A N A 




Figure 1. Diamond fields in India, from Precious Stones, Volume I by Max Bauer, 
published by Dover Publications in 1968 as re-issue of an original from 1904, 
p. 144. Courtesy of Dover Publications Inc. 



WORKING FOR DIAMONDS FROM THE l6TH TO THE 20TH CENTURY 23 



In the period from 1611 to 1618, Jaques visited several mines in the Deccan 
plateau, writing the most detailed report on the mine of Ramallakota, 
near Kurnool situated in the Golconda Sultanate, which was then ruled 
by the Qutb Shahi dynasty. A second description is from William Meth- 
wold, an English merchant in the service of the EIC who was engaged in 
buying diamonds. 6 In his ethnographic sketch of several kingdoms along 
the East coast, he included an account of a mine very near the Kollur 
mine which he visited sometime in the 1620s. 7 This mine was situated 
in the Bijapur sultanate, which at the time of Methwold's visit was ruled 
by sultan Ibrahim Adil Shah II. A third and perhaps most well-known 
description is fromJean-Baptiste Tavernier, a French jeweler who traveled 
many times to India in the 1640s, 1650s and 1660s and bought and sold dia- 
monds and other gemstones, amongst others to Louis XIV. 8 He provides 
very detailed descriptions of the Ramallakota mine which he visited in the 
1640s. A fourth sketch is from Pieter de Lange, a Dutch doctor and chief 
factor (merchant) in the service of the VOC, who later became governor 
of Masulipatnam, one of the factories of the Company on the Coromandel 
Coast. In 1663, the VOC sent him to the Kollur mine to buy diamonds. 
Though he did not succeed in making good deals, he did provide a lot of 
information about the exploitation of the mines. 9 A fifth report is from 
Henry Howard, Earl of Marshall and 6th Duke of Norfolk who presented 
his findings about 23 mines in the Golconda sultanate and 15 mines in the 
Bijapur sultanate — including Kollur — to the Royal Society of England in 
1677. Finally, there is a description of the diamond mines of Kollur and 
nearby Gollapilly, written in 1679 by Streynsham Master, an EIC official 
who was at that time an agent of Madras. 10 From the descriptions of these 



(i Mentz, English Gentleman Merchant, p. 116. 

7 Methwold's Relation was re-issued in 1931 as part of the volume of W.H. Moreland 
(ed.), Relations of Golconda in the Early Seventeenth Century (London, 1931). On page 33 
of this edition, Methwold states that the mine was closed in 1622. His Relation was first 
published in 1626. 

8 Tavernier also travelled trough the Levant and Persia. His original accounts were 
published in French: he Six Voyages de J. B. Tavernier en Turquie, en Perse et aux Indes 
(Paris, 1676). 

9 According to Tavernier, Pieter de Lange first worked as a surgeon at the court of 
the king of Golconda till 1656. J-B. Tavernier, Travels in India. Translated from the original 
French Edition of 1676 by V. Ball (reprint, New Delhi, 1989), 2 vols, I, pp. 240-3. For the 
report, see Pieter van Dam, Beschrijvinge van de Oostindische Compagnie, book 2, vol. I, 
(The Hague, 1932), pp. 176-81. 

10 "A Description of the Diamond-Mines, as it was Presented by the Right Honour- 
able, the Earl Marshal of England," Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 12, 136 
(25 June 1677), pp. 887-917, at 908. [i.e. Henry Howard] R.C. Temple (ed.), The Diaries of 



24 



KARIN HOFMEESTER 



merchants and Company officials we can obtain a good picture of the 
activities in and around the mines. 

Usually the emperor, king or sultan who had the mines on his territory 
also owned the mines. He could choose whether or not he wanted to farm 
out the mine, and if so to whom. 11 The ruler leased the mine to the high- 
est bidder, who could be a native entrepreneur (a member of the gold- 
smith caste — kamsali — for example) but also could be a foreigner, like 
the Portuguese Albaro Mendez, a member of a wealthy Sephardic family 
from Lisbon who was trained as a goldsmith in Antwerp and then sent to 
India in 1545 to acquire diamonds. 12 Governors — revenue farmers — acted 
as intermediaries between the king on the one hand, and the merchants 
("adventurers") who actually commissioned miners to dig for diamonds 
on the other. 13 These merchants were often Banians from Gujarat, who 
maintained a tight grip on the diamond trade and a wide trade network. 14 
According to Henry Howard: 

The Merchants are the Banians of Guzzarat, who for some Generations have 
forsaken their own Country to take up the Trade, in which they have had 
such success, that' tis now solely engros'd by them; who corresponding with 
their Country-men in Surrat, Goa, Colconda, Visiapore, Agra and Dillee, and 
other places in India, furnish them all with Diamonds. 15 

We know that the early modern European travellers tended to apply the 
term "Banian" to all Hindu merchants and traders, using it as an occu- 
pational category, rather than to signal caste affiliation. Today's scholars 
however also explicitly mention the Gujarati Bania diamond traders as 



Streynsham Master 1675-1680 and Other Contemporary Papers Relating Hitherto, vol. II: The 
First and Second "Memorlalls" 1679-1680 (London, 1911), pp. 113-4 and pp. 172-5. 

11 According to Henry Howard, several Raja's and sultans in South India had (some of) 
their mines dug out only privately, "A description of the Diamond-Mines," pp. 907-9. 

12 For the highest bidder, see Mentz, English Gentleman Merchant, p. 111; for the gold- 
smith, see Methwold in Moreland (ed.), Relations of Golconda in the Early Seventeenth Cen- 
tury, p. 31, as well as Narahari Gopalakristnamah Chetty, Manual of the Kurnool District in 
the Presidency of Madras (Madras, 1886), p. 94; for the Portuguese, see Verberckmoes and 
Stols (eds), Aziatische omzwervingen, p. 177 and Lucien Wolf, "Jews in Elizabethan Eng- 
land," Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England, 11 (1928), pp. 1-91, at 24-5. 

13 Kanakalatha Mukund, "Mining in South India in the 17th and 18th Centuries," Indica, 

52-53 (1991). PP- 13-52. 17- 

14 Tavernier, Travels In India, II, p. 47, Report by Pieter de Lange as included in van 
Dam, Beschrijvinge van de Oostindische Compagnie, p. 179, "A Description of the Diamond- 
Mines," p. 915. 

15 "A Description of the Diamond-Mines," p. 915. 



WORKING FOR DIAMONDS FROM THE l6TH TO THE 20TH CENTURY 25 



having an important role in the trade, amongst others as middle men 
between the mines and the European traders. 16 

In the Ramallakota mine, merchants had to pay the king a fee of two 
pagodas a day per fifty miners; this money was collected by the governor 
of the mine. 17 In the mine of Kollur, the governor had more responsibili- 
ties than that: here, the governor provided the merchants with workers, 
and made sure they were equipped with tools. In this mine, the merchants 
had to pay the governor a fee per worker, part of which went to the king 
and part to the miners. 18 

Rent was only one part of the king's revenues from the mine; he also 
received 2% of all diamond purchases and sales. 19 If the miners found a 
diamond weighing more than ten carats, they had to hand it over to the 
governor of the mine, who in turn had to transfer it to the king. 20 Notwith- 
standing the presence of overseers — hired by merchant commissioners — 
who supervised the mines, big diamonds were often excavated without 
this being reported to the governor, and directly sold on to "foreigners" 
for half the price the merchant would ask. If this was discovered, both the 
miner and the merchant were put to death, though De Coutre escaped 
this fate because he was a "Frank" (a European). 21 De Lange reported 
about the Kollur mine that this rule "was not applied too strictly." If the 
miners found a big stone and reported it, they received a small bonus. 22 

Though the miners worked in small units, the total number of miners 
in a field could be enormous. De Coutre counted 50,000 men, women and 
children in Ramallakota, while Methwold counted some 30,000 "souls" 
working in the diamond fields near the Kollur mine. About twenty years 



16 Makrand Mehta, Indian Merchants and Entrepreneurs in Historical Perspective (Delhi, 
^i) 1 ). P- 35- For the present day observance, see R.J. Barendse, Arabian Seas 1700-1/63, 
vol. II: Kings, Gangsters and Companies (Leiden, 2009), p. 690. Also see M.N. Pearson, "Ban- 
yas and Brahmins: Their Role in the Portuguese Indian Economy," in Idem, Coastal West- 
ern India: Studies from the Portuguese Records (New Delhi, 1972), pp. 93-115, 104. 

17 Tavernier, Travels in India, II, p. 46. 

18 Report by Pieter de Lange as included in van Dam, Beschrijvinge van de Oostindische 
Compagnie, p. 180. 

19 Tavernier, Travels in India, II, p. 46. 

20 Different authors mention different numbers, see Verberckmoes and Stols, Azi- 
atische omzwervingen, p. 173; Methwold in Moreland, Relations of Golconda in the Early 
Seventeenth Century, p. 33 Tavernier, Travels in India, II, p. 47, Report by Pieter de Lange 
as included in van Dam, Beschrijvinge van de Oostindische Compagnie, p. 181. 

21 Verberckmoes and Stols, Aziatische omzwervingen, p. 174. 

22 Report by Pieter de Lange as included in van Dam, Beschrijvinge van de Oostindische 
Compagnie, p. 181. For the bonus see Tavernier, Travels in India, II, p. 47. 



26 



KARIN HOFMEESTER 



later, Tavernier signalled no less than 60,000 men, women and children 
at work in the Kollur mine. 23 These numbers are astonishingly large, and 
can be explained by the very labor-intensive production process. Mining 
methods differed somewhat from mine to mine, depending on the type of 
soil that covered the diamantiferous stratum, as well as on the composi- 
tion of the stratum itself. 

Men dug the pits and took out the earth (and superfluous water) which 
was carried away in baskets by women and children. Indian miners could 
not dig below the water table, pits therefore varied from 4 to 14 feet deep. 24 
These pits were not supported with timber, as in Europe Methwold noted, 
and De Coutre personally witnessed the collapse of a mine after heavy 
rain falls, taking the lives of at least 150 people. 25 The miners used no "pul- 
lies and such like devices" but sat on top of each other, and passed on the 
baskets. 26 The women and children carried the soil to a piece of ground, 
surrounded with a wall, pierced with holes. They soaked the soil with 
water, often brought in from quite far away, which would leave the area 
through the holes in the wall; subsequently the soil would be laid to dry 
in the sun on a flattened piece of ground, to "loosen" the diamonds from 
the surrounding earth. Finally, the earth would be sieved and searched to 
discover the diamonds. If the soil was too hard to extract the diamonds, 
miners would smash the lumps of earth to reveal the gemstones. 27 

There was not only a division of labor by gender and age; there was 
also a labor hierarchy amongst the miners. The most experienced of them 
had a very important role in the mining process as "searchers," since they 
could indicate from experience the places where diamonds could most 
likely be found. Though their status was high, they do not seem to have 
been paid extra for their skills. 28 According to De Coutre, the miners were 
the poorest of the poor. Tavernier thought they were peasants, who went 



23 Verberckmoes and Stols, Aziatische omzwervingen, p. 172, Methwold in Moreland, 
Relations of Golconda in the Early Seventeenth Century, p. 31, Tavernier, Travels in India, 

n» p- 59- 

24 "A Description of the Diamond-Mines," p. 910; Temple, Diaries ofStreynsham Master, 
p. 174, Tavernier, Travels in India, II, p. 60. 

25 Verberckmoes and Stols, Aziatische omzwervingen, p. 174. 

26 Methwold, Relations of Golconda, p. 32. 

27 Tavernier, Travels in India, II, pp. 60-1. 

28 For the payment see Tavernier, Travels in India, II, p. 46, the expertise of the experi- 
enced miners is also signalled by Methwold in Moreland, Relations of Golconda in the Early 
Seventeenth Century, p. 31 and in the Report by Pieter de Lange as included in van Dam, 
Beschrijvinge van de Oostindische Compagnie, p. 180. 



WORKING FOR DIAMONDS FROM THE l6TH TO THE 20TH CENTURY 27 



back to tilling the soil when the mines were exhausted. 29 The scholar Ish- 
rat Aslam categorizes the miners as "possibly pauperised peasants and 
landless workers from the villages". 30 We may therefore suppose that at 
least a large number of miners were labor migrants who moved from agri- 
cultural areas to the mines and vice versa. 

Miners were contract laborers who worked for wages in cash, and who 
were sometimes also partly compensated in food. 31 Miners earned only 
three pagodas a year according to Tavernier, who may have mistaken the 
pay per month for a pay per year, as other observers noticed monthly 
wages from 0.5 to 1.5 pagodas (a pagoda roughly had the value of eight 
British shillings). According to Ravi Ahuja, a male "general worker" in 
Madras would have earned a monthly money wage of one pagoda around 
1760. 32 This estimate would imply that the monthly earnings of the mine 
workers were more or less an average wage. However, compared to the 
other production costs, wages were very low. These low labor costs were 
also signaled by De Coutre, who stated that they would be much higher 
in Spain, leading to a higher price per carat. 33 

Food and other necessities of life (such a tobacco and betel leaves) had 
to be brought in from other territories, and the local rulers imposed heavy 
taxes — sometimes as high as 50% — on the already expensive commodi- 
ties. According to Streynsham Master, miners and traders — except for 
privileged foreigners — were obliged to live in the town near the mines 
where these taxes were levied. 34 Methwold described the region of the 
Kollur mines as a place so barren, that before the discovery of diamonds 
it was hardly inhabited. But now it was "peopled with a hundred thou- 
sand souls, consisting of miners, merchants and such others as live by fol- 
lowing such concourses." 35 Around the mine, a complete local economy 
developed, leaving traces in the landscape which were still visible long 



29 Verberckmoes and Stols, Aziatische omzwervingen, p. 172, Tavernier, Travels in India, 
I, p. 230. 

30 Ishrat Alam, "Diamond Mining and Trade in South India in the Seventeenth Cen- 
tury," The Medieval History Journal, 3 (2001), pp. 291-310, 300. 

31 Alam, "Diamond Mining and Trade in South India," p. 300 and Report by Pieter de 
Lange as included in van Dam, Beschrijvinge van de Oostindische Compagnie, p. 180. 

32 For the other observations on mine workers wages, see Mukund, "Mining in South 
India," p. 18. For the wages of a general worker in Madras see Ravi Ahuja, Die Erzeugung 
kolonialer Staatlichkeit und das Problem der Arbeit: eine Studie zur Sozialgeschichte der Stadt 
Madras und ihres Hinterlandes zwischen 1750 und 1800 (Stuttgart, 1999), Appendix 8.1. 

33 Verberckmoes and Stols, Aziatische omzwervingen, p. 174. 

34 Temple, Diaries of Streynsham Master, p. 173. 

35 Methwold in Moreland, Relations of Golconda in the Early Seventeenth Century, p. 33. 



28 



KARIN HOFMEESTER 



after the mines had closed down. In 1908, an observer noticed "ruins of 
extensive habitations which are still to be seen on what is now a most 
desolate spot." 36 

From De Coutre's descriptions, we learn that the miners were some- 
times "paid" per stone by merchants, who in return supplied them with 
food. As the miners sometimes would not find a stone for two or three 
months, they could easily end up in a position of debt bondage. 37 Accord- 
ing to De Coutre, the miners — in this case in Ramallakota — barely had 
enough to eat. They lived in huts covered with straw, slept on mats, were 
covered with dirt of the mines, and wore no other clothes than a loin- 
cloth (which was obligatory; this was to prevent the miners from stealing). 
Unfortunately he gives no description of the other workers around the 
mine, so we have no idea whether they were better off. Miners who were 
too poor to support themselves sometimes organized in communities he 
calls compagnies. 38 

Streynsham Master reports a different situation at the Mallavilli mine 
near Kollur. He claimed "people are well favoured, well clothed, and looke 
as though they fed well to undergoe their great and hott labor." 39 How 
the miners perceived their position themselves, might be judged by the 
number of cases where a miner found a big stone, and took off with his 
wife and children. 40 Though the miners were often exploited by the mer- 
chants, they were worse off if there were no "adventurers" to commis- 
sion mining, because then they had to work for the king, in exchange for 
boarding only. De Lange described these miners as "slave like objects." 41 
Howard noticed that the governor of the Mallavilly mine in the 1670's had 
shut the mine down, and ordered all the miners to repair his residence. 
The miners had to obey, or else had to flee the area. 42 

Walking out seems to have been the only effective form of labor protest 
which miners had at their disposal. In 1655, both merchants and miners 
left the Kollur mine because of the bad governance by Jamal Beg. Only 
when a Brahman named Bhimanji was appointed, did the merchants and 



36 The Imperial Gazetteer of India voL XV: Karachi to Kotayam (Oxford, 1908), p. 328. 

37 Verberckmoes and Stols, Aziatische ornzwervingen, pp. 172-4. 

38 Ibidem, p. 172. 

39 Temple, Diaries of Streynsham Master, p. 175. 

40 "A Description of the Diamond-Mines," p. 916. 

41 Report by Pieter de Lange, as included in van Dam, Beschrijvinge van de Oostindische 
Compagnie, pp. 179-81. 

42 "A Description of the Diamond-Mines," p. 909. 



WORKING FOR DIAMONDS FROM THE l6TH TO THE 20TH CENTURY 29 



the miners return. 43 In this phase, labor relations in the Indian diamond 
mines seem to have been determined primarily by private decisions of 
local rulers. The Bijapur sultan appears to have shut down a number of 
mines in 1622, just when the VOC had started trading the stones very prof- 
itably, in order "to keepe the commoditie in request". Indirectly, the Dutch 
demand thus made the miners lose their jobs, although only for a year; 
the same mines reopened in 1623. 44 More often labor in the mines was 
disturbed by wars between rulers. The Mughal Emperors tried to conquer 
the Golconda and Bijapur sultanates, the mines being one of the reasons 
for their eagerness. In 1686 and 1687, they succeeded in their endeavours; 
mining operations remained disturbed till 1692 as a consequence of the 
wars. When the Mughals finally started farming out the mines, procedures 
were more or less the same as during the preceding sultanates. 45 



European demand and Indian production 

The possible influence of European demand on labor in the Indian mines 
should be viewed in a broader context. As the eagerness of the Indian 
rulers for the bigger stones shows us, there was a large internal consumer 
market for diamonds in India. Rulers were not the only Indians who 
owned and cherished diamonds. De Coutre described how each morning 
a procession of lords went to the court of Ibrahim Adil Shah II, the ruler 
of the Bijapur sultanate — mounted elephants, decorated with coloured 
gemstones came in front, followed by horses that wore gold and silver 
chains with plumes, set off with jewels containing diamonds, rubies and 
emeralds. 46 Stressing the difference in wealth between these rich lords 
and the ordinary population, De Coutre stated that if the members of the 
latter group possessed any wealth, the men would wear a brooch of gold 
and filigree and golden earrings with emeralds and rubies. He described 
the women as "very beautiful in their own way" with ribbons in their hair; 
a jewel on the front head set off with diamonds, rubies or emeralds; a 



43 Report by Pieter de Lange as included in van Dam, Beschrijvinge van de Oostindische 
Compagnie, pp. 178-179, Alam, "Diamond Mining and Trade," p. 296 and Mukund, "Mining 
in South India," p. 16. 

44 Tapan Raychaudhuri, Jan Company in Coromandel 1605-1690 A Study in the Interre- 
lations of European Commerce and Traditional Economies (The Hague, 1962), p. 171, and 
Methwold, Relations of Golconda, p. 33. 

45 Omar Khalidi, Romance of the Golconda Diamonds (Middletown, 1999), pp. 34-5. 

46 Verberckmoes and Stols, Aziatische omzwervingen, p. 119. 



30 



KARIN HOFMEESTER 



pearl or emerald nose pin; earrings as big as hand palms and necklaces of 
heavy pearls, emeralds and rubies. 47 For later periods, we know from the 
work of RJ. Barendse that the possession of diamonds was not restricted 
to emperors or kings: he describes the probate inventory of a subehdar 
(governor) of Bengal in 1728 who owned some fifty-two diamond rings. 
When the wealthy business man Mohan Das Seth in Bombay died, he left 
his wife a fortune in diamonds, and when the Bombay devadasi (temple 
dancer) Moti died in 1752, she left a considerable fortune in diamonds and 
joys. Not only members of the urban population owned diamonds, farm- 
ers in 18th-century Kerala possessed golden belts, inserted with pearls and 
diamonds 48 

A second point that has to be taken into consideration is that European 
traders were not the first, and certainly not the only merchants interested 
in diamonds. The gemstones formed an important part of India's export 
across the Indian Ocean seaboard (including South East Asia, the Persian 
Gulf and the Southern part of the Arabic Empire) where, according to 
Janet Abu-Lughod and Andre Gunder Frank, a global economy existed 
since or even before the fifteenth century 49 According to Holden Furber, 
the European trade in diamonds formed but a small part of the whole, "as 
Golconda diamonds found their way to all parts of Asia." 50 

European demand expanded in the late 17th century when the use of 
precious stones in jewellery increased, and diamonds were being worn 
in bourgeois circles. This might have been an effect of the larger supply 
of gemstones — not only diamonds but also emeralds from Colombia, for 
example — but it could also be explained by the increasing economic pros- 
perity of the bourgeoisie. Probably it was a combination of both factors. 51 
In the 18th century, we can witness an increase in the use of diamonds 
in precious stone jewellery. This can be explained by the lower prices, 



47 Ibidem, pp. 120-1. 

48 Barendse, Arabian Seas 1700-1763, II, pp. 838-9 and 711, and Idem, Arabian Seas 
1700-1763, Volume III: Men and Merchandise (Leiden, 2009), pp. 919 and 922. 

49 Janet L. Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-1350 
(New York, 1991); Andre Gunder Frank, ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age (Berke- 
ley etc., 1998), pp. 86-96. For the early trade relations in the Indian Ocean region see K.N. 
Chaudhuri, Trade and Civilisation in the Indian Ocean. An Economic History from the Rise of 
Islam to 1750 (Cambridge, 1985), for his remarks on diamonds, see pp. 20 and 53. 

50 Holden Furber, Rival Empires of Trade in the Orient 1600-1800 (Minneapolis, 1976), 
p. 260. 

51 Gedalia Yogev, Diamonds and Coral. Anglo-Dutch Jews and Eighteenth-Century Trade 
(Leicester, 1978), p. 89. 



WORKING FOR DIAMONDS FROM THE l6TH TO THE 20TH CENTURY 31 



caused by the increased supply since the discovery of diamonds in Brazil 
in the late 1720's, but also by a new fashion in diamond-cutting. 

Labor in the cutting and polishing industry 

One of the earliest sources informing us about the cutting techniques 
known in Europe is a description of a number of gemstones, including a 
price list, made in 1403 by a Jewish jeweller in Venice, who knew about dia- 
mond-cutting as well as the polishing process. From his list we learn that 
the heavier the diamond, the bigger the relative price difference between 
the rough and the finished stone. 52 This can be explained by the fact 
that a finished stone reveals its qualities immediately, whereas one can- 
not always tell how much of a heavy uncut stone is usable after cleaving. 

In the 15th century, the so-called table cut developed, which meant 
that the top of the octahedron was flattened, giving the diamond a flat 
"table." 

The technique to cut and polish diamonds was most probably devel- 
oped in India, and spread from there to Venice. 53 In the 16th century, the 
technique of polishing facets developed. For this, one needs a polishing 
wheel and bort (diamond dust). In Europe, the first description of this 
technique was written by Benvenuto Cellini in 1568. 54 At the same time, 
the first Indian Mogul Emperor Sultan Babur (1463-1530) described how 
he received a diamond (probably the Koh-i-noor) from his son. 55 This was 
covered with triangular facets, arranged in a symmetrical radiating pat- 
tern, with the bottom of the stone left flat: a so-called "rose cut". 

We do not know — yet — where this faceting technique originated, but 
we do have several descriptions of the work of Indian diamond cutters. 56 



52 Colette Sirat, "Les pierres precieuses au XV C siecle," Annates. Economies Societes 
Civilisations, 23 (1968), pp. 1067-85, 1078. 

53 Godehard Lenzen, The History of Diamond Production and the Diamond Trade (Lon- 
don, 1970), p. 72 and Alois Haas, Ludwig Hodel and Horst Scheider, Diamant. Zauber und 
Geschichte eines Wunders derNatur (Berlin, 2004), p. 231. 

54 Benvenuto Cellini, Abhandlungen iiber die Goldschmiedekunst und die Bildhauerei 
[translation of Trattato dell'oreficeria from 1568 by R. and M. Frdhlich], (Basel, 1974), pp. 
33-6- 

55 The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor. Translated, edited, Cour- 
tesy Random House and annotated by Wheeler M. Thackston (reprint, New York, 2002), 
p. 328. 

56 The discussion on the origin of the faceting technique is analysed in my : "Diamonds 
as a Global Luxury Commodity" in Bernd-Stefan Grewe and Karin Hofmeester (eds), Lux- 
ury in Global Perspective: Commodities and Practices, c. 1600-2000 (forthcoming). 



32 



KARIN HOFMEESTER 




Figure 2. Top: Natural octahedron whose natural planes 
were polished. Bottom: Table cut (from Godehard Lenzen, 
The History of Diamond Production and the Diamond 
Trade, published by Barrie and Jenkins Ltd in 1970, cour- 
tesy of Random House, p. 78) 




Figure 3. Top: Rose cut, top view. Bottom: Rose cut, side 
view (from Godehard Lenzen, The History of Diamond 
Production and Trade, published by Barrie and Jenkins 
Ltd in 1970, courtesy of Random House, p. 79) 



WORKING FOR DIAMONDS FROM THE l6TH TO THE 20TH CENTURY 33 



Jean de Thevenot, a Frenchmen who traveled to India in 1666, describes 
the famous castle of Golconda, and how sultan Abdullah Qutb-Shah 
housed his favorite workmen there: 

The King will have the good Workmen to live there, and therefore appoints 
them lodgings, for which they pay nothing: He makes even Jewellers lodge in 
his Palace, and to these only he trusts Stones of consequence, strictly charg- 
ing them not to tell any what they work about, least if Aran-Zeb 57 should 
come to know that his workmen are employed about Stones of great value, 
he might demand them of him. The Workmen of the Castle are taken up 
about the Kings common Stones, of which he hath so many that these Men 
can hardly work for any body else. 58 

The detailed description of Mughal Emperor Akbar's administration as 
given in the Am-i- Akbari also mentions "lapidaries, metal casters and 
other artificers" who were "constantly employed at the Imperial Court 
where their work is subjected to the test of criticism". 59 Whereas de 
Thevenot seems to imply that artisans in the royal workshops (kharkanas) 
could not work for anybody else, under Mughal rule they often would not 
even be allowed to work for other employers and — according to some 
authors — performed forced labor. 60 

Diamonds were not only cut and polished by artisans in the royal work- 
shops, they were also worked near the mines. Tavernier's description of 
the Ramallakota mine includes a report on the cutting and polishing 
activities he saw there. The extraction methods sometimes damaged the 
diamonds: when the miners smashed the lumps of earth to reveal the dia- 
monds, they could cause fractures and flaws to the stones. If the miners 
noticed the flaws, they immediately cleaved it — "at which they are much 
more accomplished than we are" — according to Tavernier. 61 After the 
cleaving and cutting, the stone was covered with facets "in order that its 
defects may not be seen". If the diamonds had no flaws, "they do not more 
than just touch it with the wheel above and below, and do not venture it 



57 He is referring to Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb to whom Abdullah Qutb-Shah had to 
pay tribute. 

58 Surendranath Sen (ed.), Indian Travels of Thevenot and Careri (New Delhi, 1949), 
p. 138. 

59 The Ain-I Akbari by Abu'l-Fazl Allami, translated from the original Persian by 
H. Blochmann and H.S. Jarrett (Calcutta, 1873-1907), III, pp. 312-3. 

60 See, for this discussion, a.o. Tripta Verma, Karkhanas under the MughaL From Akbar 
to Aurangzeb. A Study in Economic Development (Delhi, 1994). 

61 Tavernier, Travels in India, II, p. 44. 



34 



KARIN HOFMEESTER 



to give it any form, for fear of reducing weight". 62 In Ramallakota, there 
were numerous diamond-cutters according to Tavernier (it is remarkable 
that De Coutre, who visited the same mine some twenty to thirty years 
earlier did not mention these cutters at all). Each of them had a steel 
wheel "about the size of our plate". To find the grain of the diamond, the 
cutters put water on it; to be able to polish the diamond, they poured on 
oil and ample diamond dust "although it is expensive," to make the stone 
run faster. "The mill was like ours, the large wheel of which was turned 
by four blacks," according to Tavernier, but it turned less fast than the 
European ones because "the wooden wheel which causes the steel one 
to revolve is seldom more than 3 feet in diameter." 63 Tavernier felt that 
"the Indians were unable to give the stones such a lively polish as we give 
them in Europe; this I believe, is due to the fact that their wheels do not 
run as smoothly as ours." 64 

There was also another difference. In order to polish the stones, they 
were pressed against a revolving disk. As these disks would become dull 
after a while, they had to be ground regularly. As the Indian disks were 
made of steel (whereas the European disks were made of iron) they had 
to be taken off the wheel to be ground on emery, whereas the iron ones 
could stay in place, and be ground by a file. As a consequence, the Indian 
disks were ground less often, but when they were ground and the disks 
were put back on the wheel, they could run less smoothly. Pieter de Lange 
has described— though in less detail— the same process in the Kollur 
mine: damaged stones would be polished on disks and sold as laskes. 65 
Unfortunately neither Tavernier nor De Lange mentions for whom, and 
under which conditions, the cutters near the mine worked. 

We may conclude that the technique of facet polishing was well known 
in the 16th and 17th century, both in India as well as in Europe, and that 
more or less the same technique was used. What we know for sure, is that 
in Europe the facet polishing technique was developed further in the late 
17th century, when the so called "brilliant cut" was invented. This would 
become the most popular cut in Europe in the 18th century. 66 



62 Ibidem. 

63 Ibidem, p. 45. 
e4 Ibidem. 

65 Report by Pieter de Lange as included in van Dam, Beschrijvinge van de Oostindische 
Compagnie, p. 177. 

66 M.H. Gans, Juwelen en mensen. De geschiedenis van het bijou van 1400 tot igoo, voor- 
namelijk naar Nederlandse bronnen (Schiedam, 1979), p. 173- 



WORKING FOR DIAMONDS FROM THE l6TH TO THE 20TH CENTURY 35 



The brilliant cut implied, that the polished diamond not only had a very 
symmetrically cut and multi-faceted top, but also a pointed bottom, the 
so called pavilion. This increased the refractory quality of the diamond, 
enhancing its brilliance, but also reduced its weight, often up to 50%. The 
latter was anathema to the Indian lapidaries. This is often explained by the 
fact that one classical Indian text states that the diamond loses its virtues 
if you cut it. 67 However, the same text also mentions cutting and polishing 
as normal procedures, so maybe we should not attach too much value to 
that statement. It is however evident that the taste for stones which were 
left as big as possible was strongly developed in India. The number of 
carats was very important in the valuation, and therefore also in the pric- 
ing of diamonds in India. 68 In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Indian and 
European tastes for finished diamonds clearly began to diverge. 

Already in the 1670s, John Fryer (a scientifically trained servant of the 
EIC) wrote that the Indian cut and polished diamonds were mostly sold in 
the country, whereas the rough stones were sent to Europe — "they com- 
ing short of the Fringies in Fancy". In Europe, they were "both set and 
cut to more advantage". 69 Elsewhere, he advised potential buyers in India 
that "Rough, brute or uncut stones, are in value half the price of cut or 
polished stones". 70 The same price difference, even increasing with more 
than 50% for stones of one carat and more, was also mentioned by the 
15th century Venetian-Jewish merchant quoted earlier. The sources give 
no information about the reason for this price difference; of course, there 
was the direct visibility of the quality of a cut stone, but maybe the wages 
of Indian cutters and polishers also added value to it, even though the 
result was not fitting European tastes. 

As taste and fashion are important factors in the production and con- 
sumption of luxury commodities, one might plausibly assume that the 
European preference for brilliants prompted the relocation of the dia- 
mond finishing industry from India to Europe. But there were also more 
prosaic reasons for the relocation: more value could be added, if finishing 



67 Louis Finot, Les lapidiaires indiens (Paris, 1896), pp. xxx-xxxi, he quotes the Agas- 
timata, a tenth century manuscript on gemstones with a lot of later date additions. In 
an appendix to this manuscript, it says that a diamond cut with a blade or worn out by 
repeated rubbing, becomes useless and looses its benevolent virtue. However, in the man- 
uscript itself, cutting and polishing are described as normal, permitted procedures. 

68 Oppi Untracht, Traditional Jewelry of India (New York, 2008), pp. 317-8. 

69 John Fryer, A New Account of East-India and Persia in Eight Letters being Nine Years 
Travels, Begun 1672 and Finished 1681 (London, 1698), p. 113. 

70 Ibidem, p. 213. 



36 



KARIN HOFMEESTER 



and cutting could be done in Europe. If a merchant had enough skills to 
value a rough diamond, his profits would be bigger if he could avoid the 
re-cutting process that often had to be done in Europe to adapt the stone 
to local tastes. The relocation also fits the general tendency to start pro- 
ducing "Oriental" commodities in Europe. 71 

Since more money could be made by buying rough diamonds in India, 
and having them cut and polished in Europe according to the latest bril- 
liant fashion, the discovery of new diamond fields in Brazil seemed to 
set off a true rearrangement of the diamond commodity chain with large 
consequences for the labor relations in both Brazil, India and Europe. 

The discovery of diamond mines in Brazil and its consequences 

In the late 1720s, the discovery of large deposits of alluvial diamonds in 
the Brazilian Minas Gerais district north of Rio de Janeiro seemed to her- 
ald a new era in the diamond trajectory history. 72 No longer was India 
the sole supplier of rough diamonds (apart from the very small stream of 
diamonds that reached Europe from Borneo from the late 17th century 
onward) and no longer did local kings decide how and by whom the mines 
would be exploited. 73 The diamond fields in Brazil were exploited by the 
colonial powers in Lisbon: a Crown that was not in the first place inter- 
ested in diamonds for its own adornment, but in making as much profit 
out of them as possible. Initially, the new exploiter — happy to have a new 
source of diamonds after being outpaced and outplaced by the Dutch and 
the British in India — welcomed all merchants and miners to work the 
mines, as long as they paid a tax per miner to the Portuguese treasury. 
These miners were in fact mostly slaves, imported on a large scale from 
Africa especially for this purpose. From a labor relations perspective, the 
biggest impact of the discovery of diamonds in Brazil was of course to be 
found in Africa and Minas Gerais itself, not only for the massive increase 
of explicit unfree labor, but also for the development of a local economy 



71 For this, see Maxine Berg, Luxury and Pleasure in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Oxford, 
2005) an d for a focus on the textile industry: Giorgio Riello, "The World of South Asian 
Textiles, 1500-1850," in Giorgio Riello and Tirthankar Roy (eds.), How India Clothed the 
World: The World of South Asian Textiles, 1500-1850 (Leiden, 2009), pp. 1-27. 

72 Later in the 1740s, diamonds were found in the Mato Grosso district in the East, and 
finally, in the 1840s, new field were discovered in Bahia. 

73 Though some publications mention the Borneo mines, no serious attempts have 
been made to include Borneo in the global diamond commodity chain, which 1 hope to 
do in a later stage of research. 



WORKING FOR DIAMONDS FROM THE l6TH TO THE 20TH CENTURY 37 



around the mines, including the start of agricultural production and even 
imports from Europe. 74 However, because this article focuses on India 
and Europe, I will skip this important interconnection here. 

The uncontrolled mining operations caused an enormous flow of rough 
diamonds in Europe, more than five times the value that usually came 
from India, which led to a price drop to half the previous value, and in 
some cases even to a third of the usual price. 75 The Indian trade came to 
a complete standstill. Startled by the lowered prices and the responses of 
the European traders — who feared that in Brazil "diamonds were as plenty 
as transparent pebbles" — the Portuguese Crown shut the Minas Gerais 
mines down in 1734- 76 When the mines reopened in 1739, they established 
a mining monopoly, with the actual mining entrusted to one single con- 
tractor or consortium (in practice it was usually a Brazilian merchant of 
Portuguese origin). The contractor had to pay rent per slave, and was not 
allowed to employ more than 600 slaves, to avoid overproduction. 77 The 
trade in rough diamonds was linked up with this mining monopoly, so 
that representatives of the contractor could only sell their products in 
Lisbon, where trading procedures were state-controlled, and officials of 
the king had the first choice of stones though — unlike the Indian kings — 
they paid for the diamonds. Only after this procedure, the representatives 
could sell the remaining diamonds to other European merchants. 78 In 
x 753» the Crown — in an attempt to stop the ongoing illegal mining and 
smuggling — decided to separate the two parts of the diamond commod- 
ity chain, and established a true trading monopoly, next to the mining 
monopoly. The Dutch consul in Lisbon, Daniel Gildemeester, obtained 
this extremely expensive trading monopoly in 1761, and held it for sev- 
eral decades. 79 Concluding that it was impossible to combat corruption in 
the mining business, the Portuguese king in 1771 decided that the Crown 



74 See for the increase of slave labor: Laird W. Bergad, Slavery and the Demographic 
and Economic History of Minas Gerais, Brazil, 1720-1888 (Cambridge, 1999); for the devel- 
opment of the local economy see Donald Ramos, "Slavery in Brazil: A Case Study of Dia- 
mantina, Minas Gerais," Americas: A Quarterly Review of Inter-American Cultural History, 
45 (1988), pp. 47-59- For the imports, see Tijl Vanneste, Commercial Culture and Merchant 
Networks: Eighteenth-Century Diamond Traders in Global History (PhD Thesis European 
University Institute, Florence, 2009), p. 293. 

75 For the amounts see Yogev, Diamonds and Coral, p. 116. 

76 David Jeffries, A Treatise on Diamonds and Pearls (London, 1751), p. 66. 

77 Vanneste, Commercial Culture and Merchant Networks, pp. 231 and 281, Ramos, 
"Slavery in Brazil," p. 48. 

78 Vanneste, Commercial Culture and Merchant Networks, pp. 231 and 281. 

79 Ibidem, pp. 231-5 and Yogev, Diamonds and Coral, p. 122. 



38 



KARIN HOFMEESTER 



would be the sole mine exploiter (the 'Royal Extraction'). This situation 
would last till Brazil's independence in 1822, when the concession system 
was reintroduced. 

What were the consequences of the discovery of this new diamond min- 
ing region for production and labor, in India and Europe? Unlike India, a 
local consumer market for diamonds was nonexistent in Minas Gerais, all 
diamonds were mined to be sold directly in Europe. 80 To earn as much as 
possible from their sale, the Portuguese Crown tried hard to concentrate 
the trade in rough in Lisbon. However, an enormous amount of smuggled 
diamonds directly found their way from Brazil to London— a city which 
kept its status as important market in rough diamonds. 81 

The large role of the Dutch trade monopolist Gildemeester (as well as 
the subsequent role of the Amsterdam based banking firm Hope & Co) in 
lending money to the Portuguese Crown in exchange for diamonds meant 
that Amsterdam had a constant and direct inflow of rough diamonds from 
Brazil. 82 This had two important consequences: London had to share its 
position as rough market with Amsterdam, and, more importantly, the 
position of Amsterdam as the finishing center of the world was consol- 
idated. It was hard to compete with Amsterdam's supply of capital; its 
trade connections that guaranteed a constant influx of rough diamonds 
and its large number of finishers offering craftsmanship in the various, 
specialized branches of the industry, for relatively low wages. 83 As a con- 
sequence, the trade in finished diamonds flourished in Amsterdam. 

After 1740, the trade with India surprisingly revived. The measures of 
the Portuguese Crown to regulate the supply seemed to be effective and 
the growing demand— spurred by the lowered prices and the invention 



80 When the Portuguese Crown settled in Rio de Janeiro in 1808, taking refuge for the 
French troops that had occupied Portugal, they took their (taste for) diamonds with them, 
as well a the diamond finishers that had served the court. See Harry Bernstein, The Brazil- 
ian Diamond in Contracts, Contraband and Capital (Lanham, 1986), p. 57- For more con- 
sequences of the move from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro on diamond production in Mmas 
Gerais, see Bergad, Slavery and the Demographic and Economic History of Minas Gerais, 
pp. xviii, 93-94; 128. 

81 Yogev, Diamonds and Coral, p. 122. 

82 In exchange for loans to the King of Portugal, Hope & Co received an exclusive con- 
cession to sell diamonds originating in the Portuguese colony of Brazil. The Hopes would 
accept the diamonds and sell them on the Amsterdam market; then they used the pro- 
ceeds to defray the interest and principal of the loans they had made to Portugal. For the 
Diamond Loan see Marten G. Buist, At Spes nonfracta. Hope & Co., 1770-1815 (The Hague, 
1974), p. 383 ff, for the technical explanation, pp. 386-7- 

83 Yogev, Diamonds and Coral, p. 142; Jeffries, A Treatise on Diamonds and Pearls, 
p. 101. 



WORKING FOR DIAMONDS FROM THE 16TH TO THE 20TH CENTURY 39 

of the brilliant cut — balanced the supply. There is therefore no reason to 
assume that the discovery of Brazilian diamonds had any effect on the 
production in the Indian mines; the demand was big enough and for a 
very long time the Indian stones were preferred above the Brazilian ones. 84 
It might however have affected the cutting industry in India, as far as the 
Indian cutters worked for the European market. Only thorough research 
in available archives of European merchants and jewellers could statis- 
tically prove an increased demand for brilliants, and as a consequence 
extra demand for uncut stones from India. A quick comparison of the 
account books of Joseph Cope, a famous diamond polisher in London, for 
the years 1693-1710 shows us that he seems to have sold as many rose cut 
diamonds as brilliant cut diamonds, whereas the 1771-1776 accounts of 
EIC agent Harry Verelst with diamond merchant George Robertson show 
many more brilliants than rose cuts. Robertson also 'made over' an 'India 
cut brilliant'. Still, Lyon Prager, a member of the famous London based 
diamond Jewish diamond merchant family, settled in Calcutta and bought 
diamonds polished in India as late as 1791, though they only formed a 
small part of his trade. 85 

Labor in the Indian diamond industry from the late 18th to the 
Late 20th centuries 

By the end of the 18th century, the production of the Indian mines seems 
to have slowed down, though the sources that inform us about this might 
be biased. There are quite a number of reports from British officials who 
explored the possible revenues of diamond mines in the recently acquired 
'Ceded districts'. 86 These included the Bellary district (where several mines 
were located), as well as Cuddapah en Kurnool. These sources show the 



84 Lenzen, The History of Diamond Production, pp. 129-130. 

85 The National Archives of the United Kingdom, Kew, (hereafter TNA) Chancery 
Records, C 104/197 Cope vs Cope, (1693-1710) a.o. overview of diamonds bought (not 
dated), printed list of his jewel stock, to be sold in public auction after his death in 1710. 
British Library, London (hereafter BL), India Office Records (hereafter IOR), Mss Eur 
F 218/56 accounts of Harry Verelst with George Robertson (1771-76); TNA, Chancery 
Records, C 111/146 Elliot vs Willis, Sale book of diamonds and pearls from Lyon Prager 
(Calcutta 1787-1796). 

86 In 1796 AD, the Deccan Nizam Asafjah II, harassed by the Marathas and Tipu Sultan, 
opted to get British military protection. In return, the Nizam ceded a large portion of the 
acquired territory to the British, to be added to the Madras Presidency. This area was also 
known as the Ceded Districts. 



40 



KARIN HOFMEESTER 



direct influence of British demand on the situation in the Indian mines, 
especially now they had become in 'their possession'. At the same time, 
they tell us how the mine was worked when the reporters came to visit, 
and how the British felt the mines should be worked. I will focus on the 
extensive reports on the mines near Cuddapah, and contrast these to the 
reports on the Panna mines that were not part of the Ceded districts. 

Starting in 1796, Benjamin Heyne wrote several of reports on a number 
of mines (he was a surgeon, naturalist and botanist, working for the EIC). 
Though Heyne was primarily interested in minerals, he also had an eye 
for the miners and their labor — and wrote about them. The exploitation 
of the mines near Cuddapah he described was more or less the same as 
in the 16th and 17th century: the mines were governed by a headman who 
paid rent — this time to the EIC — and who worked some mines himself, 
farming out the rest. The headman paid a yearly rent of 130 pagodas to 
the Company; for diamonds weighing more than 12 carats, he had to pay 
one third of its value to the Company. Miners were hired by the head- 
man, and received one pagoda per month. Heyne noticed men, women 
and children working in the mines, about sixteen people per mine. As in 
previous centuries, the actual owner of the mine farmed it out, received 
rent for it, and a percentage of the larger stones, but the owner did not 
carry the financial risks; these were borne by the renters. The renter made 
5,000 pagodas profit per year, against 2,000 pagodas in expenses. 87 Labor 
costs still seemed to have been only a small part of the production costs. 
The mining procedures are much the same as in the earlier descriptions, 
though the number of miners was much smaller than in the earlier days, 
which could point in the direction of exhaustion of the mines, or at least 
the layers that could be worked on with the simple methods the miners 
had at their disposal. 

A report written in 1814 by C. Ross, collector to the Board of Revenue 
in Fort St George for Kurpah, near Cuddapah, gave a detailed overview of 
the revenue of the Company from the mines, showing that it earned more 
from the rent than from the share of the bigger diamonds. The bigger 
stones were sold in public auction; the profit was divided between rent- 
ers and sub-contractors. According to Ross, most miners owned shares in 
the produce, only some miners were 'mere laborers for hire'. Given the 



87 Benjamin Heyne, Tracts, historical and statistical on India, with several tours through 
various parts of the peninsula: also an account of Sumatra, in a series of letters (London, 
1814), pp. 101-2 and BL, IOR F/4/275/6149 and P/243/35. 



WORKING FOR DIAMONDS FROM THE l6TH TO THE 20TH CENTURY 41 



current output of the mines, he did not expect cultivators to go working 
in the mines, this might change though if mining would become more 
profitable. Ross was convinced that in reverse, miners would never engage 
in cultivation as their job was hereditary (suggesting a specific caste back- 
ground). If they could find no work near the Penner river, they would go 
to the Kristna. One might conclude from Ross's report that labor migra- 
tion still existed, although not from agricultural areas to mining areas, but 
from one mining area to another. All in all, the labor relations between 
the owner of the mine and the main renter on the one hand, and the 
renter and the miners on the other, seem to be less unfree than in earlier 
periods. 

To make the exploitation of the mines more profitable, Ross suggested 
that smaller plots of the mine should be rented out. An advertisement was 
placed in the District Gazette, and some Indian entrepreneurs responded. 88 
In 1821, the Board of Revenue found that the rent had yielded no more 
than 200 pagodas a year, and therefore stopped the exploitation. 89 In the 
meantime, a Mr Christy (a surgeon in service of the EIC), had suggested 
a more profitable way of exploiting the mine, using a very specific form 
of unfree labor. He suggested that the convicts of the Cuddapah district 
could be put to work in the mines nearby. They cost the Company a for- 
tune each year, and although they worked to build water tanks, roads and 
bridges, they could be used for much more profitable work. According 
to Christy, nobody wanted to rent the plots of mine, as 'coolly hire' was 
expensive, and the rent was too high in relation to the profits. If con- 
victs could be put to work in the mines, with the help of real "searchers," 
there would be no expenses on wages. He attached a detailed account 
of the profit rates he expected for the next ten years, and also added an 
extra encouragement: "the government of Brazil employs all its convicts 
and many slaves in digging and searching for diamonds." 90 The Board of 
Governors of the EIC however did not like the plan. The convicts, they 
felt, did useful work already; it was not wise to put people who were con- 
victed for theft to work in a diamond mine, where they had to be guarded, 
and peons had to be paid, but most of all: the capital for the exploitation 
should be provided by private individuals and not by the government. 91 



BL, IOR F/4/540/13001, letter by C. Ross dated 24th of December 1814. 

BL, IOR F/4/676/18769: extract revenue letter form Fort St George 6th of July 1821. 

BL, IOR F/4/676/18769 letter of Mr Christy from 9th of January 1817. 

BL, IOR F/4/676/18769 letter from England dated 22nd of May 1819. 



42 



KARIN HOFMEESTER 



In 1820, EIC Captain Buckley reported that the diamond mines in and 
around Panna in the central provinces of India yielded quite some dia- 
monds of good quality. People thought only table cut diamonds came 
from these mines, but this was just a matter of Indian taste, they could be 
turned into brilliants for the Europeans. Buckley suggested a considerable 
investment of capital, knowledge and technique by the EIC and by private 
investors, but the Company turned this plan down as well, and decided 
not to work these mines as they were still 'in the possession of a foreign 
power'. 92 In 1877, the Frenchman Louis Rousselet described the diamond 
mines near Panna, which were quite deep but still worked with age-old 
devices such as candles (to heat and soften the hard layers of rock) and 
the Persian wheel (to transport water and earth to the surface). According 
to Rousselet, the mines yielded 1.5 million of francs per year, but very few 
diamonds reached Europe, as they were very much in demand in India 
itself. The Raja who owned the mines sold the rough stones to Allahabad 
and Benares, but lately had started a polishing workshop in Panna. Rous- 
selet felt their products could not compete with the Dutch finished stones, 
but he certainly liked the rose cuts and large facetted brilliants made in 
Panna. 93 

Diamonds were at that time not only cut and polished in Panna, Alla- 
habad and Benares. In 1842, EIC captain Newbold visited several diamond 
mines, and wrote about Munimadugu that here, some of the cutters and 
polishers 'famous for their skill as lapidaries' could be found. 94 They used 
to process the stones found in the Ramallakota mines, where the cutters 
and polishers who had lived there for centuries, had fled the attacks of the 
Maratha troops and settled in Munimadugu. The Kurnool District Manual 
gives us a glimpse of the labor relations in and around the mines: the cut- 
ters were hired by Gujarati merchants, who fled with 'their' kamsaLis from 
one mine to another. 95 Most of the cutters and polishers would escape 
from violence again, and leave Munimadugu for Madras or Hyderabad. 96 



92 BL, IOR F/4/66i/i8326 Extract Bengal Public Consultation 15th of September 1820. 

93 Louis Rousselet, L'Inde des Rajahs. Voyage dans I'Inde centrale er danse les presidences 
de Bombay et du Bengale (Paris, 1877), pp. 442-3. 

94 Lieut. Newbold, "Mineral Resources of Southern India No 8. Diamond Tracts," The 
Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland vol. 7, no 8 (1843), PP- 
226-40, 230-1. 

95 Chetty, Manual of the Kurnool District, p. 95. 

96 BL, IOR F/4/540/13001 Extract proceedings of the Board of Revenue at Fort St George 
of 2nd of January 1815. 



WORKING FOR DIAMONDS FROM THE l6TH TO THE 20TH CENTURY 43 



The Panna mines remained in the minds of the British who, in 1904, 
asked E. Vredenburg of the Geological Survey of India 97 to write a report 
on the mines. He concluded that the mines could still be worked prof- 
itably, as long as modern science and technique were used. Of course, 
Indian laborers would still have to do the real mining work, and Vreden- 
burg noticed, this should be family work: men, women and children work- 
ing together, as the Indians clearly preferred this way of working. Strict 
supervision of the workers was needed, but since there were women and 
children involved 'such severe measures as are practiced in the South Afri- 
can mines' were of course impossible. 98 

These reports, letters and books all show us that diamonds were still 
found in India, even in the 20th century, though not so much in the areas 
which the British had under their control. A publication of K.P. Sinor from 
1930 on the Panna mines shows us that diamonds were still mined there, 
and also cut and polished, though on a small scale. It is therefore not 
correct to speak of a 'return' of the diamond polishing industry in the 
20th century; it just never disappeared. When the Indian mines did not 
produce enough stones to satisfy the Indian appetite for diamonds, they 
were imported from South Africa. 99 Indian merchants also started to buy 
rough and polished stones from Antwerp traders, who had local agents in 
Bombay. The fact that in the 20th century the Indian merchants turned 
to Antwerp, rather than to Amsterdam, proves that the latter city had lost 
its position to the first, which is another important shift in the diamond 
trajectoiy, already discussed elsewhere. 100 

To circumvent these middlemen merchants, several jeweller-mer- 
chants from Palanpur in Gujarat — all Jains — started to travel to Antwerp 
themselves to import polished stones. 101 Some twenty Palanpuri dealers 



97 The Geological Survey of India was established in 1851, as a follow-up of the EIC 
commission on Coal which aimed to study and explore availability of coal in the eastern 
parts of India. Eventually it became a government organization controlled by the Union 
Ministry of Mines for conducting geological surveys and studies. 

98 BL, IOR/R/2/449/4 E. Vredenburg, Geology of the State of Panna, principally with 
reference to the Diamond bearing deposits (1904). 

99 In 1867, India started importing rough diamonds from South Africa immediately 
after their discovery, see V. Ball, A Manual of the Geology of India. Part III Economic Geology 
(London, 1881), appendix A, pp. 576-9. 

100 See for example Salvador Bloemgarten, Henri Polak, social democrat 1868-1943 (The 
Hague, 1993), chapter seven. 

101 Jainism is a religion that prescribes pacifism and non-violence towards all living 
beings. It is a minority religion whose adherents form quite successful immigrant com- 
munities in North America, Western Europe and the Far East. For their activities in the 
diamond trade, see Sebastian Henn, "Transnational Communities and Regional Cluster 



44 



KARIN HOFMEESTER 



travelled up and down to Antwerp in the 1920s. 102 These imports stopped 
abruptly in 1947: after its independence, India's new government estab- 
lished import regulations that prohibited the import of polished dia- 
monds. Rather than spending money abroad on "luxury," the government 
wanted to stimulate investments in the economic developments of India. 
In 1952, the Indian entrepreneurs were allowed to import diamonds again, 
on the condition that only 10% of their purchases were polished; the rest 
should be rough stones that had to be polished in India. This way, the 
Indian industry would be stimulated. Some Palinpuri merchants invited 
Antwerp cutters and polishers to India to teach them the modern tech- 
niques. These techniques were transferred to the people from the villages 
in Gujarat. 103 The Indian diamond industry was further stimulated by the 
1962 Replenishment Scheme. From then on, all import restrictions were 
repealed, as long as the finished goods were exported at a higher price. 104 
This led to a growth of the diamond cutting and polishing industry in 
India. From 1964, Indian merchants were welcomed as sight holders — 
authorized purchasers of rough diamonds — at the Central Selling Orga- 
nization in London. 

The discovery of diamond mines in Australia in 1985, which produced 
mainly small, low quality gems, really kicked off the Indian diamond 
industry, when Indian entrepreneurs decided to polish very small stones 
which previously used to be considered suitable for industrial use only. 
The price of large, and therefore rare, rough diamonds is very high and 
labor costs form a relative small percentage of the total production costs. 
However, with small stones, the value added by cutting and polishing is 
greater in proportion to its total price. This explains the interest of the 
Indian entrepreneurs: they combined a relatively skilled labor force with 
low labor costs, that could be achieved, amongst other things, by a high 



Dynamics. The Case of the Palanpuris in the Antwerp Diamond District," Die Erde, 141 
(2010), pp. 127-47; 132-3. 

102 Ibidem, 134. 

103 Bernard Imhasly, "Schleifen am Familientisch. Uber Indiens wichtigste internationale 
Industrie," NZZ Folio. Die Zeitschrift der Neuen Zurcher Zeitung, 12/93, <http://www.nzzfo!io 
.Ch/www/d8obd7ib-b264-4db4-afdo-277884bg347o/showarticle/ed4da8ad-o68a-48aa- 
83di-7b35d3gad8a9.aspx> [last accessed on n August 2011]. 

104 Henn, "Transnational Communities and Regional Cluster Dynamics," p. 136 and 
Menahem Sevdermish, Alan R. Miciak, and Alfred A. Levinson, "The Rise to Prominence 
of the Modern Diamond Cutting Industry in India," Gems and Gemology, 34 (1998), pp. 
4-23, 6. 



WORKING FOR DIAMONDS FROM THE l6TH TO THE 20TH CENTURY 45 



input of child labor. 105 The tiny stones were very fashionable in the USA, 
where a fast expanding market developed when the American depart- 
ment store chain Walmart started selling jewellery set with small stones. 106 
To illustrate the growth of the industry in India: in 1966, 6% of the world's 
diamonds were polished in India, and in 1996, 92%. 107 

As a country with a long mining, finishing and consumption tradition, 
India is nowadays a finishing center for all types of diamonds, from small 
to large, and is also developing as a diamond consumption center. 

Conclusion 



rde, 141 



The worldwide production and trade of rough and finished diamonds 
involved many different forms of labor, often interconnected. Much of this 
labor was migrant labor: Gujarati merchants moved from the West coast 
to the mines in South and Central India, forming a true trading Diaspora, 
employing local miners who went to and fro between agricultural and 
mining areas in the early modern period, and from one mine to the other 
in the 19th century. European merchants also migrated, to pick up their 
part in the commodity chain, leaving the European capitals in order to 
settle in Indian coastal trading hubs. As a consequence of the growing 
European demand for diamonds, the wish of the Portuguese Crown to 
earn as much as possible from diamond production in its colony, and the 
lack of a local labor force, a large scale forced migration took place from 
Africa to the Brazilian diamond mines from the late 1720's onwards. 

Work in the cutting and polishing sector depended too on circulation, 
not only of knowledge and technology, but also of skilled workers. In India, 
Gujarati merchants took 'their' kamsalis from mine to mine, and the shift 
of the finishing industry from Antwerp to Amsterdam was spurred by the 
migration of skilled workers. In the 20th century, the travels of merchants 
and finishers between Antwerp and Bombay stimulated the large scale 
growth of the Indian cutting industry. 

Next to migration, ethnicity, religion and caste played a role in labor 
relations in the global diamond production. Gujarati merchants were 



105 For a very critical review of the diamond sector, including child labor in the Indian 
sweat shops, see Janine Roberts, Glitter & Greed. The Secret World of the Diamond Cartel 
(New York, 2003), chapter 2. 

106 Tom Zoellner, The Heartless Stone. A Journey through the World of Diamonds, Deceit 
and Desire (New York, 2006), p. 199. 

107 Sevdermish, Misiak and Levinson, "Rise to Prominence," p. 8. 



46 



KARIN HOFMEESTER 



often Banias not seldom Jains, whereas European merchants were often — 
though certainly not always — Jewish. Both traditions can still be seen in 
the 21st century trading and finishing hubs Antwerp and Indian cutters 
and polishers all seemed to have been members of the goldsmiths caste, 
whereas the Amsterdam diamond industry for a long time was a mainly — 
though again certainly not completely — Jewish industry. These ties facili- 
tated contacts with trade — and often family — relations in other parts of 
the world, sharing capital on the one hand and knowledge, skills, contacts 
and trust on the other. These forms of human capital are very important 
in the sector and travel easily, if needed globally. 

Next to the characteristics of people in the diamond production, there 
is also the geographical and more importantly the political context that 
shaped labor relations. There are striking similarities in the way mine 
owners exploited 'their' mines. Most of them farmed out the mines, leav- 
ing the financial risks to the governors, merchants or renters of the mines. 
The owners profited from the mine's produce by demanding (a share of) 
the larger diamonds, mine rent as well as taxes. Whether the mine owner 
was a Deccan sultan, Mughal Emperor, the EIC or the Portuguese Crown, 
they more or less all followed the same exploitation methods, striving for a 
monopoly on the mines and the control of supply. Political and more spe- 
cifically colonial contexts could also determine large differences between 
labor relations in different countries. Putting convict laborers to work 
in the diamond mines in the Indian districts 'ceded' to the British was 
unacceptable, while it was a daily routine in the Portuguese colony Brazil. 
Apart from these differences, colonial powers could also determine which 
mines were exploited, how and by whom. Depending on the nature of 
the 'government' of the mine, miners could be subject to slavery or harsh 
labor conditions such as low wages, debt bondage and corvee labor. 

Finally, there are number of very visible global-local interconnections, 
such as the local economies that developed around the diamond mines in 
India, but more especially in Brazil, as a consequence of the production of 
diamonds for the European market. Perhaps the most striking intercon- 
nection is the 18th centuiy relocation of part of the finishing industry from 
India to Europe, as a consequence of a changing consumer taste there 
and the discovery of diamonds mines in Brazil, a development that was 
reversed in the 20th century after the discovery of mines in Australia and 
the start of a new fashion for small stone jewellery in the US.